Summary: Contrary to how plastic surgeons are portrayed on TV, many of them have a softer side and show it through many charitable causes. Whether local or abroad, plastic surgeons are in high-demand to help those less fortuante.
In a game of word association, it’s safe to assume few people would hear “plastic surgeon” and immediately think “humanitarian.” Blame reality television or the tabloids, but plastic surgeons are usually linked to vain and wealthy celebrities.
But the fact is that thousands of plastic surgeons worldwide routinely donate their time and skills to help people without the access or resources to see a doctor with the specialized training needed for reconstructive surgery. From helping victims of domestic violence disfigured by a physically abusive partner to traveling to Third World countries where approximately 1 out of every 1,000 children are born with a cleft lip or palate, plastic surgeons help underserved patients in dire circumstances.
The history of charity and reconstructive treatment in plastic surgery traces back to the earliest days of the specialty. Modern plastic surgery emerged from the tragic injuries suffered by soldiers during World War I, when a small group of physicians revolutionized facial reconstruction techniques through skin grafting. That pioneering work led directly to the remarkable results achieved for patients with birth defects, injuries, and other conditions, restoring both form and function.
Let’s look at an example. Like many of the board-certified plastic surgeons who participate in surgical missions to Third World countries, Dr. Douglas Hargrave offers his talents in emergency situations. Dr. Hargrave, a plastic surgeon in Albany, New York, at The Plastic Surgery Group, traveled to the Dominican Republic and Haiti after an earthquake struck the region in 2010, and has also operated in underserved areas by performing corrective surgery of cleft lips and palates, congenital hand deformities, and other birth defects.
Plastic surgeons often say the work they do as part of charity missions is among the most rewarding work of their careers and make a point of scheduling future volunteer efforts.
Many surgeons who donate their skills are part of organizations that target specific patient populations. The list of groups that help connect plastic surgeons with patients includes:
- Operation Smile: Operation Smile is an international children’s medical charity that performs safe, effective cleft lip and cleft palate surgery and delivers postoperative and ongoing medical therapies to children in low- and middle-income countries.
- Doctors Without Borders: This organization is well-known for its humanitarian efforts throughout the world, including medical care in war-ravaged countries where reconstructive plastic surgery is provided to injured victims.
- Face to Face: Sponsored by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), Face to Face helps surgeons provide free care for children and adults who suffer from facial deformities that are either congenital or the result of trauma.
- Healing the Children: This group arranges trips for medical volunteers, including plastic surgeons, who travel at their own expense and, in many cases, provide their own surgical instruments.
- Fresh Start Tattoo Removal Program: This nonprofit organization links a national network of providers who use laser surgery with former gang members and parolees to remove visible gang and prison tattoos.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it offers a glimpse into the various areas in which plastic surgeons are able to use their unique talents.